A LOVE SUPREME

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Do we need God to be good???

There was an interesting discussion over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog that spilled over to Ktismatics. It was a discussion on God and being good. Here is the link:
http://ktismatics.wordpress.com/2006/12/23/ivan-are-you-okay/

From VanSkaamper the Theist:
My point, however, was that without that Creator as the locus of an objective morality, your sense of good is only your own…mine is mine, and Stalin’s is Stalin’s…and they’re all equally valid. If Stalin thinks it’s better for his group to kill your group, you really have no means to argue with him about it. Your sense of good, the value that you ascribe to “a positive outcome for the group at large” is subjective, not objective. Stalin’s value of himself and his power at the expense of you and your group is equally subjective, and equally valid. Bang, you’re dead, and there’s no objective right or wrong about it.

My point, Ivan, is that while I agree with and affirm your desire for world peace, global harmony, etc., atheism provides no means to objectively affirm and advocate such a morality. The reason why Neitzche is your prophet is that he saw this clearly, and the will to power (i.e., might makes right) is what will determine what’s valuable in a world without God, nothing else, no matter how we try to package or rationalize it.


From Ivan the Atheist:
Van, we have wars now about whose invisible friend is the biggest? The insanity of religion drives decent men to achieve great evil. History is replete with the murderous terrorism of the Inquisitions, The slaughter of the Mayans, The industrial slaughter of Jews. etc etc. All in the name of one God or another. I see that science has provided the world with a new enlightment a new quality a new hope that only comes from abundant food and energy. We argue on here because you have a protein full stomach, a warm room and a computer to type. All the benefits of living in a scientific age. I don’t want to go all star trekky on you, but eventually, if world religions were to be phased out, my suspicion is humanity may have a fighting chance of losing barbarism to its history. We might even live for the day, we might even smile more and live that little bit better knowing that the eternal rewards are right here not some enthral notion of afterlife. We just disagree.




Here is my quick thought:

If we want to be good, then we should be good for goodness sake. There is no pragmatic need to affirm God for sake of morality. If living a good life is the goal, then goodness should be lived for its own sake. If virtue and goodness is an end in and of itself then there is no need to posit "god" or "gods" in order to achieve it. Don't wait for a theoretical reason just live for the pursuit and establishment of goodness. To borrow the Nike phrase, "Just Do It"!

Not only do you not need a god to be good, but you don't even need a higher moral law - at least as far as I can see. Just live for goodness as it plays out in everyday life. When you have the opportunity to help an old lady across the street, don't wait for a higher moral law that tells you it is good - just do it! And do you really need to be told that it is wrong to kill someone for no good reason?? Do you really need to be told that it isn't right to take someone else's stuff if it doesn't belong to you?

But then we have a new question: There may not be any pragmatic ground for being good, but what are the best theoretical grounds for morality? A moral law and a moral law giver would be the best, as far as I can see. But talking about "best" or "better" grounds is really only a discussion of probability. And just because something is probable does not mean that it is true. In a similar way just because something is improbable does not necessitate that it is untrue.

This brings us full circle to the question: Do we need God to be good?

6 comments:

Melody said...

Quick thoughts,

I agree with VanSkaamper. If there is no deity to decide morality for us, it is subjective.

There are practical reasons not to shoot someone in the head just because they’re annoying.
Their friends might shoot you in revenge. If people shot everyone who annoyed them it would seriously deplete the work force and probably put an end to luxery goods and drive the economy downwards...but who says that, that’s a bad thing?
I wouldn’t like that...but certain communist groups seemed to...it’s all in your point of view.

As for Ivan...hard to argue against such sweeping statements. He says that the world’s greatest evils were done all in the name of one God or antoher. But there have been just as horrible evils in the name of communism, humanism, or simply greed.
Religions are most often simply tools to reach one’s own ends.

As for your own stance...mmmm, C.S. Lewis would use it as evidence of natural law, which he says is instilled in us by God and shows that we are created in his own image, whether we admit the relationship or not.

I am not sure that I buy into the natural law idea, however. There are countries where playing tricks on people or stealing from them is considered virtuous (Eternity in Their Hearts, Peace Child) so I’m not at all convinced there is any such phenomina.

My personal opinion is that having been raised in a nation so steeped with Christian morality that for over a century it has been unable to distinguish between culture and Christianty...you believe morality to be self evident, when in fact it is only self evident in the same way that it is obvious that laughter means we are amused (in China, for example, it denotes embarressment).

Let’s say someone is coming at you with machette...quick...why shouldn’t they take off your head? Because they know deep inside that it is wrong? Obviously that’s not bothering them terribly at the moment. Besides, perhaps you had it coming.

Melody said...

Ha, reading the whole way through your post would have been a good idea, yes?

I don't think I know whatyou mean by what are the best theoretical ground for morality?

I don't think it's a discussion of probability...but one of ideals.



I find it equally probable that a deity or man might make up morality (it is not convenient to rule a country with out rules).
Deity might actually seem less probable for some, because we see men every day and see them making up rules - God is unseen and for some unfelt.
I do however find it more appealing that someone with a higher understanding that a human being and with a broader spectrem of thought than "this works out well for me" should come up with morality.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody says...I don't think I know what you mean by what are the best theoretical ground for morality?

Good question. And, I might add, you have some very good thoughts on this whole issue.

When I talk about the difference between "practical" and "theoretical" grounds for being good I am talking more about personal motivation. Do we really need to know that a god exists in order to play nice with our fellow human beings? Or is "playing nice" and "being bad" just self-evident? Do we need a moral law to motivate us? For me I see the motivation coming from different areas, but I think the primary motivation for most of us is that we want to get along with each other and also have a feeling that we are "good" and contributing to the greater good. For this I don't necessarily think we need a god or even an abstract moral law.

The difficulty with this is when moral ideas come in conflict. What happens when I think that I think we should cut off a thief's hand, but you think we should just make him sit in jail for a while? And what if somebody doesn't think its really all that bad to steal, especially if one is poor? If there is no higher moral standard then how do we determine which of us is right?

But notice that an appeal to a moral law or even to a god does not necessarily resolve the problem. We could all three of us point to a higher moral law in defense of our moral beliefs. But then we have to decide whose moral law is the right one! And we could all three of us appeal to god as the final word on the issue, but whose god has the final say??!!

Melody says...
Ha, reading the whole way through your post would have been a good idea, yes?

Not, necessarily. Sometimes it is much more entertaining to just skim a post and then swing for the fences in a comment!!!

Melody said...

I think "playing nice" is self evident. We know how to tick off those around us or engratiate ourselves to them...then again...that is not always true. Think of socially akward people who don't "get" why people are frustrated or annoyed by them.

But, assuming that most of us understand these things, it still says nothing more about us than that we are born manipulative.

Jon:But notice that an appeal to a moral law or even to a god does not necessarily resolve the problem... whose god has the final say??!!

Hence the religious bickering and bloodshed that Ivan finds so upsetting.

If your god says you can hog all the chips and mine says you need to share...we're already at an impass.

Without nailing down a worldview to look at this through (and the very act of asking it implies that we leave our own worldviews at home for the discussion as much as is possible) you're not going to get an actual answer.

That's the problem with you seminary people...all discussion...no answers... ;)

ktismatics said...

I wound up having a nice email exchange with Vanskaamper around the edges of this post. Here's an excerpt from the last round. My comments are italicized, Vanskaamper's are in quotes.

If we agree, even from radically different outlooks, that loving your neighbor as yourself is a worthy ethic to pursue, then let's do it.

"I couldn't agree with you more on that. I think it's more important that we agree (and act on that agreement) than it is that a materialist can justify that belief."

You can say it's an objective ethic because God declared it.

"I'd say it's objective not just for that reason, but that's another discussion. The basic idea, though, is that an objective morality exists independently of the beliefs of any subjective human agent."

I might say that this ethic isn't objective, that at best it's intersubjective, but I can still decide to embrace it as a choice and to strive to act in accord with it.

"Yes, absolutely."

As you say, we'll never attain perfect goodness or perfect truth in this world, but perhaps we can at least do better.

"We could certainly do a lot better. The world is a very, very messy and dangerous place."

ktismatics said...

Interestingly, Andrew Perriman at Open Source Theology has also been snagged in the Jesus Creed spamcatcher: here's the link. Makes you wonder again about that Hans Frei post we were supposed to "scroll down friend" for, don't it?